Women's Spaces Discussion (Feb 1998)


Query From Bonita Bray bbray@unixg.ubc.ca 10 Feb 1998

I'm posting the following query for a friend who is not on the list. Replies can be posted to the list--it seems a topic that will be of general interest--or can be e-mailed to her privately at my e-mail [above]. Thank you in advance for your assistance in finding material on this subject.

>I am looking for information on the establishment of women's >buildings or the need for women's spaces in the early part >of this century.

>In 1926, the women of Vancouver (BC) celebrated the opening >of the Vancouver Women's Building. It represented 15 years of >hard work, fundraising and organizing. The organization, which >was an umbrella for 20 women's organizations in the city, >incorporated early on in its existence and sold shares as its >primary fundraising activity. The Local Council of Women and the >Vancouver University Women's Club were the primary >shareholders. The whole endeavour came out of an incident in >which one of the organizations (University Women's Club,if I >recall correctly) had a meeting and no where to hold it. The >women began to think in terms of a place where all women of >the city could meet. The Women's Building, as finally >constructed, contained meeting rooms and, I think, some >banquet facilities. It also housed the Vancouver Creche >(later renamed the Nursery).

>What I would like to know is whether the Vancouver Women's >Building was a part of a larger movement to build women's >spaces? Were similar buildings constructed (or attempted, at >least) elsewhere? Or is this an isolated incident? Is there >a literature of any sort on this?

>Failing a literature on a women's building movement, would >anyone have a few citations to start me off on a search for >discussions of women's space more broadly, a sort of "room of >one's own" idea? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Responses:

From David Doughan fawcett@lgu.ac.uk 11 Feb 1998

I don't know about a movement to create women's spaces, but in London a new building called Women's Service House was opened in 1931 (in Marsham Street), and served as a meeting place and feminist centre up till 1940, when it suffered bomb damage from which it has never recovered. The building remains in the care of Westminster City Council, who are looking at ways of developing it (not necessarily returning it to feminist use).

From Joan R. Gundersen gunderj@numen.elon.edu 11 Feb 1998

The Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) have a Women's Club Building established about the turn of the century. It still functions as a space with restaurant and meeting rooms for women. I believe there is a history of the building.

From Mary Melcher melcherpost@home.com 11 Feb 1998

Mormon women built their own small buildings for the Relief Society until about 1920. Then the church hierarchy decided this was not a good practice and required them to meet in the same building as everyone else. One Mormon woman whom I interviewed believed the leaders were trying to take away the women's independence. There is a lot of literature on Mormon women concerning the Relief Society. Look for Sisters in Spirit, edited by Maureen Beecher and Women of Covenant, also edited by Beecher , Conon, and Melvay. Other women who had their own buildings in Arizona include the Cowbelles (a ranch women's organization) and the Casa Grande Women's Club. There are probably more, but I know of these groups.

From janet coryell coryell@wmich.edu 11 Feb 1998

How about Daphne Spain's Gendered Spaces?

We also have a doctoral student working on women's library buildings--she might be of help. Try sharon.carlson@wmich.edu

From Karen Pare KLP249@aol.com 11 Feb 1998

I am researching Mormon women in the US in the 19th c. Beginning in approx. 1868, Mormon women in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, etc., through their Relief Society organization, began building their own "halls" in which they met, made quilts, prepared burial clothing, held "socials", etc. In these halls they sometimes also had cooperative stores where the women could sell things they made. This continued until 1921, when the church discouraged further building of women's halls and instead incorporated women's space into the church buildings, giving the women a Relief Society room of their own. Perhaps there was some kind of "movement," which we are unaware of, of women seeking their own space in this era.

I don't know if this is relevant to your research, but you may contact me off-line at klp249@aolcom

From Gwen McNamee gmcnam1@uic.edu 11 Feb 1998

In 1902 in Chicago attorney Mary Bartelme - who went on in 1923 to become the first woman elected judge in Illinois - was President of the Chicago Business Women's Club. This organization comprised of women professionals and business workers (stenographers, lawyers, doctors, bookkeepers) who worked in the city and were in need of basic services and spaces including restrooms, cafeteria, gymnasium, reading rooms and the like. The organization was founded during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. In 1902 the club wanted to establish their own building. they raised enough money to rent three floors in what was called the Atwood building on Clark Street in downtown Chicago. They hoped to eventually raise enough money to build their own building, but had financial troubles. Bartelme invested three thousand dollars of her own money into the club, but several years later (?) the club declared bankruptcy and folded. There is an article about the club in Bartelme's papers at the University of Illinois at Chicago Special Collections Dept., and the Chicago Historical Society has the article about the club's demise as well as some other documents about the organization.

On a slightly different, but related instance is the Isabella Clubhouse established by the Queen Isabella Association during the 1893 Exposition. Rejected by the Board of Lady managers, they organized their own clubhouse two blocks away. Their papers are at the Chicago Historical Society and Jeanne Weiman discusses them in her book _The Fair Women_.

From: Carolyn Brucken Carolyn.Brucken@gte.net 11 Feb 1998

A good place to begin might be to look at the building and use of the Women's Building at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There was a great deal of debate surrounding whether women should have a separate building or be integrated into other exposition buildings. The building was designed by a female architect, run by a women's committee, and showcased women's achievements.

There is a lot of good literature out there on women's spaces and women and the use of space. Good places to start include Dolores Hayden, Grand Domestic Revolution which gives a history of feminist design in the nineteenth century and Helen Horowitz, Alma Mater which discusses the building of women's colleges in the nineteenth century. On the politics of women and space, you might want to check out Gillian Rose, Feminism & Geography and Daphne Spain, Gendered Spaces and useful introductions to the theoretical literature.

From Jill Hanson Jill_Hanson@nps.gov 11 Feb 1998

I believe buildings constructed specifically for/by women's groups are quite common. Women's clubs built clubhouses beginning in the late-nineteenth century across the United States, or purchased existing buildings for their purposes. These were usually locally initiated and financed projects. Looking at the broader issue, places for women included educational institutions such as women's colleges; houses designed and built for women as residences and used by women as offices, meeting spaces, etc.; public/institutional spaces built specifically for women such as homes for working women, YWCA buildings, settlement houses, etc.; and women's workplaces such as textile mills and factories like the location of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The list goes on and on.

Scholarship on this subject includes Page Putnam Miller, ed., _Reclaiming the Past: Landmarks of Women's History_; Ellen Perry Berkeley and Matilda McQuaid, eds., _Architecture: A Place for Women_ Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, _Alma Mater:Design and Experience in Women's Colleges_; Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, _Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women's Landmarks_; Marion Tinling, _Women Remembered: A Guide to Landmarks of Women's History in the United States_. I am sure there are others. My own research in women's places focused on the city of Columbia, South Carolina, and therefore I am not familiar with sources for Canada. Maybe someone else out there is.

From Vivien Rose Vivien_Rose@nps.gov 11 Feb 1998

Yes, the Vancouver building was part of a larger movement to gain women's spaces.

There is a body of scholarship on women's buildings in the U.S. A good place to start is Page Miller's _Reclaiming the Past_. Several YWCA buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, see the article by Antoinette Lee in The Magazine of History (v. 12 no. 1) Fall 97 for a sample.

In Bellingham, Washington, just south of Vancouver, there is a women's club building from the same period which served some similar purposes. In the town where I now live, Ithaca, New York, there is a Women's Community Building, also from the same period with similar purposes, and still active in providing programming, housing, and room for special events.

From Melissa Walker melissa.walker@Converse.edu 13 Feb 1998

During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, home demonstration clubs in many states established "women's rest rooms" in market towns so that farm women would have a place to go and rest and socialize while in town to sell farm produce or shop. I found a record of several such clubs in the Tennessee home extension records for 1919-1941. Although I don't specifically discuss the rest rooms in my work, you might check the work of Ann McCleary or Rebecca Montgomery.

From Erika Rappaport rappaport@humanitas.ucsb.edu 13 Feb 1998

On women's spaces in London during the same period you are interested in, you might want to look at the third chapter of my 1993 Rutgers dissertation, "The West End and Women's Pleasure: Gender and Commercial Culture in London, 1860-1914" which is on women's lavatories, women's clubs and all-female dining rooms.

Also, you might take a look at Lynn Walker's "Vistas of Pleasure: Women Consumers of Urban Space in the West End of London, 1850-1900" in _Women in the Victorian Art World_, ed by Clarissa Campbell Orr (Manchester University Press).

The epilogue of Martha Vicinus' _Independent Woman_ also deals with the topic briefly.

For an excellent study of Boston and women's space, take a look at Sarah Deutsch, "Reconceiving the City:Women, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1910" in _Gender and History_, vol. 6, no.2 (August 1994):202-23.

From Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com 13 Feb 1998

Please take a look at the "Separate Spheres" discussion thread on the H-Women website. I think there may be some information there which will be useful to you. The URL is: http://h-net.msu.edu/~women/archives/threads/disc-sepsphereorg.html

From Thomas C. Jepsen tjepsen@mindspring.com 19 Feb 1998

One possible connection which comes to mind is the establishment of women's pavilions or buildings at various world's fairs in the late nineteenth century, which certainly contributed to the popularization of the concept of a separate space for women's activities. Two references for the Women's Pavilion at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, widely separated in time, are: T.J.Schlereth, _Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life_(New York:1991), and J.S. Ingram, _The Centennial Exhibition, Described and Illustrated_(Philadelphia:1876).

From Carol DeBoer-Langworthy CDBL@Brown.edu 20 Feb 1998

I believe there were/are a number of buildings dedicated to women's concerns and history in Minnesota. For instance, there is/was a Woman's Building at the Minnesota State Fair and there is now a women's building near the Minnesota statehouse.

The Minnesota Historical Society can provide specifics on women's buildings and exhibits in the North Star State. Also, members of the Women Historians of the Midwest (WHOM), whose offices are in that afore-mentioned women's building, may be able to help with information.